Morgan Momentos – World War I Victory Lamp
In late 2009, I stumbled across a “Victory Lamp” on an auction site on the internet. I had never heard of such a thing and no one I knew in the area of Morgan, where and when I grew up there, had one or likely knew about them either. Yet all the “Victory Lamps” assembled and sold by Snead and Company of Jersey City, NJ shortly after the Great War, later renamed to “World War I”, originated in Morgan, NJ.
Before we go much further, an enormous “Thank You” needs to go to Mr. Robert “Nick” McWhorter of Springfield, KY. Mr. McWhorter was kind enough to mail me not only photos of his Victory Lamp but copies of the original advertising brochures and assembly instructions his aunt, Thelma McIntyre, kept after she purchased Victory Lamp #822 for $18.40 in 1919 ($3 down payment, $3 a month for four months with a $3.40 final payment). Mr. McWhorter was also kind enough to send a copy of a draft of a letter his aunt hand wrote to Snead & Co. regarding the lamp and a short bio about her. She was quite an accomplished lady: Legal Secretary, Medical Technologist in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) during World War II, College Professor then Laboratory Head at two hospitals before getting married at 57, retiring, and living to over 100! This documentation, which survived 91 years only because of the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of his aunt, greatly helped me gain a full understanding of the history of the lamps, tie some disparate research together, as well as provided some interesting “threads” to look into further.
The essence of these lamps, and their main component, was a 75mm artillery shell recovered from the remains of the beyond enormous series of explosions at the Morgan, NJ based T. A. Gillespie Loading Company plant. This catastrophe (to be featured in a future posting) started in the early evening of October 4, 1918 and went on for something like three horrifying days. The gigantic “Morgan Plant” was quickly built in 1918 to load explosives, e.g., Trinitrotoluene (TNT) and Amatol (TNT mixed with Ammonium Nitrate), into a wide range of sizes of artillery shells and casings for use by the US and its allies during World War I.
Another distinct feature of the lamp was the lampshade which was designed specifically for the lamp by a noted artist of the time (see posting from May 9, 2010). Snead and Company offered three options for how the lamps could be lit. Though pretty much unheard of these days when purchasing a table lamp for the home, these options were probably typical for the time period. You could choose between either electric, kerosene (oil) or gas (not gasoline). My mother still remembers the gas street lamps which were installed on her street in Jersey City in the early twentieth century. San Diego, California features a “Gas Lamp District” celebrating the days when lighting was done by gas. Berlin, Germany has many thousands of gas lights illuminating the city.
This unique and original lamp was composed of the following components:
- Open top lamp shade patterned with specially designed art work.
- The 75mm artillery shell.
- Hardware to accommodate the light source option chosen: electric, oil or gas.
- Statuary finished spun brass base.
- Label on the bottom of the brass base.
The lamp in its entirety was patented by Angus S. MacDonald, Assignor to Snead and Company, in order “to prevent unscrupulous imitation” and so “… none but GENUINE “75’s” saved from the Morgan explosion will be used or CAN be used.” There were actually two patents for the lamp, one had the open top lampshade, and the other had a doughboy helmet as a lampshade. Filed for on March 6 and 14, 1919, respectively, patent numbers 53,224 and 53,225 were issued on April 22, 1919.
As stated, all the shells were recovered from Morgan after the explosions and reworked by Snead & Co. As per the brochure, “the economic conditions arising from the sudden stoppage of our war-work that made it possible, for the only time in the history of Snead & Co. (or of any other firm for that matter), to let their employees busy themselves with the fashioning of these shells into lamps and made possible their sale at less than HALF what a lamp of this class would cost.”
The Snead & Co. artisans modified each shell in preparation for the lamp. Two engravings were made on each shell. The first one, located about half way down the shell, indicated “VICTORY NOV 11, 1918 75 M/M SHELL”. The second, significantly longer, was engraved on the copper driving band which is located about a fifth of the way up from the bottom of the shell and completely encircles it. This second inscription is from Isaiah 2:4 in the Old Testament: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Each 75mm shell was then finely polished and finished with dull ebony black baked enamel.
The Lamp Shade
It appears that there were ultimately two types of lamp shades offered. The first lamp shade type featured a metal doughboy helmet. Quite likely this was the shade provided with the first lamps made available. The second one had an open top and was composed of Strathmore Vellum Parchment. The art work on the open top lamp shade was designed by Franklin Booth, a noted period artist best known for his stylized ink line drawings which captured the “feel” of wood engravings (see the to-be-reposted Victory Lamp Lamp Shade page). It was open on the top to allow for the venting of the burned oil or burned gas and, as the brochure states, “to allow light to be reflected from ceiling”. The helmet version was more suitable to the electric version it would seem.
Franklin designed the lamp shade to have a different mood depending on whether the lamp was lit or unlit. Without light, the shade portrayed a war scene. With light, the lamp transformed to a scene of peace. This was done by having artwork both on the outside of the lamp shade as well as the inside. Franklin utilized design and color to create this transformation. The antique tan and brown shaded drawings on the outside of the lamp and the rose colored tinted drawing on the inside of the lamp, while different, were designed to overlap when lit.
Each shade was hand sewed and hand colored.
One of the things to look for if you buy a Snead & Co. Victory Lamp is a paper label on the bottom of the brass base. The label says:
“75 M/M VICTORY LAMP”
Manufactured by the Snead & Company (some added “Iron Works” and some didn’t).
Founded 1849 Jersey City, NJ
This lamp was made from a genuine U.S. Government French-American 75 M/M Shell saved from the Morgan explosion.
Snead Lamps are patented as follows:
April 22, 1919 May 10, 1919 June 3, 1919
Other patents pending
Of all the lamps sold on the on-line auction sites (e.g., eBay, Manions, Worthpoint), and they have been showing up at the rate of around one every few months, they have all been electric and I have not seen one which still had the original Franklin Booth shade available. I did see some which had the doughboy helmet though.
Interestingly enough, while most everyone in 1919 was familiar with what the “Morgan explosion” was, by the time 2010 came along, most people had no idea – including many who live in Morgan. Hopefully this web site and Randy Gabrielian’s book “Explosion at Morgan” will help change that.
Originally posted on May 9, 2010.